Israel-British partnership – a winning combination

Regenerative medicine offers potential cures for everything from heart disease to blindness, from cancer to diabetes and more.

British flags 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
British flags 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
The UK and Israel have much in common and much to share. This may be most true in the sciences, where we should be cooperating far more than we are at present.
So it is very good news that last week, some 250 leading British and Israeli life scientists met at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to consider their future vision for one of the most exciting areas of contemporary science – regenerative medicine.
As director of the British Council and a lapsed immunologist I am proud to be working alongside Matthew Gould, Britain’s ambassador to Israel, to bring this ambitious new program to life. For me, the visit to Israel of 60 British scientists representing over 20 British universities is a powerful indicator of the current strength of relations and fills me with optimism for the future.
The meeting was not only one of the most ambitious of its kind to be organized between our countries, it is indicative of the ambition which we have for a stepchange in our relationship through educational, scientific and cultural engagement.
Britain and Israel are natural partners in science. Both countries produce Nobel prize-winners and scientific citations out of all proportion to the size of their populations.
Together we have some of the world’s leading laboratories and universities, with the UK having four of the world’s top ten universities.
British and Israeli scientists have enormous respect for each other and want to do more together. We know this because this is what the leaders of universities tell us, and what scientists tell us. The launch of this program is a bold response to this demand.
THE LAUNCH of this five-year program was an important development of the Britain Israel Research Academic Exchange (BIRAX), a program launched jointly in 2008 by the prime ministers of the United Kingdom and Israel, the British Council and the Pears Foundation.
The decision to focus on regenerative medicine was taken by the recently formed UK-Israel Life Sciences Council – a group of 19 top scientists from both countries including four Nobel-prize winners, three members of the UK House of Lords and university presidents.
Regenerative medicine offers potential cures for everything from heart disease to blindness. It can offer hope to patients with cancer and diabetes. But its ambitions already extend even beyond this vision with trials taking place for treatments of spinal cord injuries and artificial trachea.
Regenerative medicine, which deals with restoring the impaired function of cells, tissues, or organs in the human body, uses a range of approaches include stem cell therapy, tissue engineering, gene therapy and biomedical engineering.
It could also be applied toward improving health in developing countries as 80 percent of global chronic disease deaths, more than 95% of infectious disease deaths, and almost 90% of deaths due to injury and trauma occur in low- and middle-income countries.
Fundamental research is essential for the creation of a solid basis of understanding for clinical studies in regenerative medicine. Scientists will need to collaborate, share, and work together in order to reach the full potential of this field. Last week’s conference and program launch was a significant commitment to realizing this idea.
The writer is the director of the British Council in Israel